Morning arrived with a thunderstorm booming in the distance and a loud knock on the door. Bernadette’s Grandma Moses went to answer the door. She did it in the same manner she did everything, which meant in her own time.
Nothing pushed Grandma Moses except the seasons. She opened the door to stop whoever at the door was pounding on it.
Chief Dan Cardinal stood on the small wooden step. He looked larger than normal. This morning he was wearing his cowboy hat instead of his baseball hat. The cowboy hat meant he was on official business.
Grandma Moses waved him into the house and went to her wood stove to make tea. Tea was always served the moment you walked into the house. You could ask for something else, but it would appear as tea.
Chief Dan followed Grandma Moses into the house and sat at the kitchen table. It was the only place to sit. Off the kitchen was a postage-stamp-size living area with an armchair, coffee table, and small television with antennas that searched in vain for fuzzy reception from down south. Grandma Moses was the one who sat in the armchair.
“There’s been a problem,” Chief Dan said, after clearing his throat a few times. He felt uneasy around Grandma Moses. The whole native village knew she could channel spirits. No one messed with her unless they wanted some ill omen to be descended on them.
“What kind a problem?” Grandma Moses asked.
“My boy, Tommy and his cousins, Stephen and Peter, they got beat up bad down by the river,” the Chief said. His big body creaked forward in the little kitchen chair.
Grandma Moses poured the tea into cups and placed a cup for the chief. “Oh,” is all she said.
“Bernadette was seen running towards the river,” the chief said.
“Is that so?” Grandma Moses said. She shuffled over to the table and sat down. She didn’t look a match for the chief, but she was. She was small, plump in the middle, and always dressed in the same shapeless, flowered dress. Her grey hair had been grey since Bernadette could remember. It had two styles, tightly woven pigtails, worn either up or down.
But it was her eyes. The soft brown eyes registered her slight surprise or interest with the smallest flicker. They could pierce into the heart of the biggest men and make them uneasy.
Bernadette stood in the doorway to the one bedroom she shared with her grandma. She could see the chief squirming.
The chief looked away from Grandma Moses and stared at Bernadette. Their mutual hatred for each other was apparent. Bernadette held his gaze and stared back at him.
“Tommy says you led Stephen, Peter, and him down to the river and they were jumped by some white boys from town. You want to tell your Grandma and me why you did it?” the chief said.
Bernadette held her hand to her mouth. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Of course, how could those three idiots explain how they’d been beat up by a sixteen-year-old girl?
The chief stared at Bernadette then looked back at Grandma Moses. “The RCMP are involved. They’ll be out to question Bernadette. Look here, Grandma Moses, no one wants trouble here, but your Bernadette has brought it on herself—”
“Bullshit,” Bernadette yelled.
The chief winced. He was not used to being interrupted. Anyone who did it on the reservation or in council was immediately dealt with. They could be expelled. He was in tough territory, under the gaze of Grandma Moses.
“I’ll speak with her,” Grandma Moses said. She got up from the table. The meeting was over. The chief knew it was time to make his exit. He put his hat on with determination, adjusted its brim, and lumbered out the door. He slammed it as his last act of authority.
“Why didn’t you tell me this last night?” Grandma Moses asked. It wasn’t accusatory, just a question.
“I thought you’d think I was stupid for running from them. I shouldn’t have run. Tommy called Mom a whore, so I kicked him in the balls then ran. They chased me into the woods, caught me, and said they were going to rape me . . .” Bernadette’s voice broke as she explained.
Grandma Moses walked over and held Bernadette. She was much smaller than Bernadette, but her embrace was strong. “I’m glad you got the better of them.” She stared up into Bernadette’s eyes. “You should have cut their balls off.”
“I didn’t have a knife,” Bernadette said.
A knock came at the door. Bernadette went to the door and opened it to find RCMP Sergeant McNeil at the door. She motioned for him to come in. Dryness came into the back of her throat. The lie the boys had told was manifesting in an ominous way.
“Thanks for seeing me,” the sergeant said.
As Bernadette closed the door, she could see the locals crowding around outside. She was already guilty. The crime was bringing in white boys to do her dirty work.
Sergeant McNeil looked like he’d dropped into the world old and worn. His hair and mustache were grey, his eyes were a washed-out blue, and the man had a roadmap of worry on his wrinkled face. It was like the world’s problems had settled on him and wouldn’t let go.
McNeil sat at the table and removed his hat. He took out a note pad and pen and laid them out on the table. “I’m here to take your granddaughter’s statement. There are no charges being laid; we need to find the facts.”
Grandma Moses sat across from McNeil, shoved tea towards him. “You want to tell me what facts you’re dealing with?”
McNeil raised an eyebrow at her question. He should have known Grandma Moses would cross-examine him. He’d been here several times before when Bernadette had gotten into trouble in town. He leafed through his notebook and read. “The Cardinal boys stated they chased Bernadette into the woods after she assaulted them. Deep in the woods several boys from town jumped them and after a fierce fight they were overcome and beaten into unconsciousness.”
“That’s a lie,” Bernadette said.
Grandma Moses put up her hand to silence Bernadette. “Tell me, Sergeant, do you believe this report?”
McNeil shook his head. “Not a word. All the teenage kids from town were away at a basketball game in La Crete. I checked with sick reports, and I have two scrawny twelve-year-olds in town. I don’t think they were a threat.”
“You already know the Cardinal boys are lying. Why come here and make like you’re on their side?” Bernadette said. Her arms were crossed, her legs planted as if she was ready to fight.
“Because I needed to talk to your grandma and you, Bernadette,” McNeil said. He stirred his tea and looked across at Grandma Moses. “You know the Cardinal boys will be caught in the lie soon, don’t you?”
Grandma Moses nodded her head.
“When they do,” McNeil continued, “they’ll come after Bernadette even harder next time. I’m sure whatever happened in the woods wasn’t good—”
Bernadette unfolded her arms and stepped forward, “They tried to—”
“Stop!” Grandma Moses commanded.
“Did they try to assault you sexually?” McNeil asked. His eyes dropped to the table with his question. He hated dealing with rape cases. They had no female officer in their detachment; it always fell on him to do investigations into rape. He was terrible at it. He was so uncomfortable in the interviews with women; no one wanted to come forward with allegations.
Grandma Moses threw a threatening glance at Bernadette. She got the message. Her lips tightened so hard they went white. She held back a tear trying to escape from her eye.
“Bernadette has no statement to make other than she saw nothing,” Grandma Moses said.
“I leave this up to you.” McNeil sighed and put away his notebook. He looked up at Bernadette. “No one ever takes the RCMP’s advice, but if I can say one thing, it’s get this girl out of here.”
“But I didn’t bring any white kids in to beat them up,” Bernadette protested.
“Doesn’t matter,” McNeil said. “The town is already up in arms because they know it isn’t true, and your reservation is ready to have me arrest Bernadette because they think it is true.”
“Where’s my justice?” Bernadette said.
“You shamed Chief Cardinal’s son and his cousins,” McNeil said. “It’s your word against theirs, and they’ve got bruises to prove their case. Bernadette, you’ll never be safe here.”
“He’s right, Bernadette,” Grandma Moses said. “The Cardinal boys have many friends tougher than they are. If they can convince them you ambushed them, you’re in big trouble.” She turned to look at McNeil. “She’ll be gone by tomorrow.”
Sergeant McNeil got up and headed towards the door. “I’m sorry it had to be this way, but perhaps it’s for the best.” He turned and looked at Bernadette. “Sometimes a fish becomes too big for its pond.”
Bernadette stood and faced her Grandma. “What’s he saying?”
“He’s right. I’m going to make a phone call. Pack a bag.”
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